Why Breakfast is a Fraud: Meal/Nutrient Timing 101
The Original "Breakfast Club"
How many times in your life have you heard that, "you need to eat breakfast because it is the most important meal of the day!"? I can guess it is a lot. You heard it from your parents, grandparents, friends, coaches, on television, and everyone else under the sun.
Growing up, I just assumed it to be true just because everyone was saying it. But have you ever thought about whether it was actually true or not?
In this post, I am going to be covering everything about meal timing from whether breakfast really is the most important meal of the day to whether eating carbs at night will make you fat and much more.
Here's exactly what I'll be covering:
- What is meal timing?
- The Breakfast Myth
- Carbs at night make you fat?
- Intermittent fasting
- Eating every 2-3 hours and your metabolism
- Pre and post workout meals
- How to customize to your own personal lifestyle
Let's get this myth busting party started!
1. Meal/Nutrient Timing:
What the heck does meal/nutrient timing mean?
Simply put, it is eating specific nutrients (proteins, carbs fats) in specific amounts, at specific times.
These specific times or amounts may be:
- Before, during or after workout
- Before bed
- How often you eat
- How big your meals are
- How many meals
Keep These Things In Mind:
When reading todays post, I want you to remember the two factors that are most important in regards to body weight and body composition.
- If you eat more than you burn then you will gain weight
- If you eat less than what you burn then you will lose weight
- If we hit our macros for the day, then we hit our calories for the day
- Our most important goal is to hit our macronutrient goals for the day
Remember these two key points when reading todays post because they will help you understand meal timing and the role it plays in our nutrition/goals/lifestyle.
2. The Breakfast Club
The most important meal of the day?
We hear it everywhere, "breakfast is the most important meal of the day!" My whole life I have been told this story over and over again and up until 2 years ago, I thought it was true.
When you think about it, our bodies have been fasting for 8-12 hours and our bodies are primed to use nutrients more effectively than other times of the day. So of course you would think that breakfast would be essential! And studies seemed to back this up the past 20 years but they jumped to conclusions a bit too soon.
Correlation vs Causation
After reading best selling author Dr. Ben Goldacre's book Bad Science, I learned how to sift through the garbage that most studies claim. This book was life changing so I highly recommend giving it a read.
The most important thing I learned from Dr. Goldacre's book was that almost every study you see publicized on the news or on the internet have made claims from correlational research and not causal research.
- Correlation = X and Y happen at the same time
- Causation = Y happens because of X
This correlation came from research showing that breakfast skipping is associated with higher body weights in the population.
Let’s go back to our timeless phrase that we’ve heard our whole lives that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Well because most everyone still believes this, those who skip breakfast more than likely have deregulated eating habits and have a higher disregard for their health.
Not to say everyone who skipped breakfast is like this but this is where the negative association with skipping breakfast came from.
The nutritious breakfast myth: We are doing it all wrong….
What our typical breakfasts look like: It’s a disaster in the U.S.
Lets look at the macronutrient profile of this meal:
- A typical bagel has: 270 calories, 2g fat, 52g carbs, 10g protein
- 3 serving cream cheese (because 1 serving of cream cheese is much smaller than you think): 300 calories, 27g fat, 3g carbs, 6g protein
- 2 servings orange juice (because 1 serving of orange is about half the glass not a full glass): 220 calories, 0g fat, 52g carbs, 4g protein.
Total for typical American breakfast:
- 790 calories, 29g fat, 107g carbs, 20g protein
If you know me, I’m not a huge fan of the distinction between “good” and “bad” food choices but in regards to someone starting their day of on a bad note, this breakfast would be doing so! And why is that? Let me use a great example to illustrate what this does to the rest of your day.
This was one of my client exact breakfast he had been eating for the past 3 years. He starting working with me because he had put on a substantial amount of bodyweight/body fat. Based upon his activity level, goals and current condition, I prescribed his goal macros to hit daily were:
- 1810 Calories
- 175g protein
- 70g fat
- 120g carbs
Ok lets go back to our breakfast from earlier and analyze what this did to his macros:
After breakfast (7:30am), he would only have 13g of carbs left while having 155g of protein and 41g of fat left to hit for the day. Do you see how he kinda screwed himself over for the rest of the day? It would be almost impossible to hit your protein without going over on your fats and carbs for the day.
So what the heck do you need to know about breakfast!?
1. If you enjoy breakfast, eat breakfast
- If so, make sure it's a high protein breakfast so you do not have to play catch up all day on your macros
2. If you are not hungry in the morning, skip breakfast.
- But if you do skip breakfast, just know that in order to hit your macros for the day you will need to be eating bigger meals to make up for skipping breakfast.
I wake up around 5:45am every morning and usually do not eat anything until around 11:30 am. I personally like to eat bigger meals (upwards to 1000 cals per meal) so this strategy works out well for me. I will give a more in depth run down of how I structure my meals later on in the post.
It is really that simple. There is nothing special about breakfast. The biggest thing we need to worry about is overall hitting of your macronutrients. You are going to notice this theme over the course of this post just to give you a heads up 🙂
3. Carbs Before Bed Will Make You FAT!!!!!
Yet another claim we've all heard
We've all heard this one, "no carbs after 8pm or your body will store all of it as fat!"
This one is easy to rationalize:
- Carbs are known to be our fuel for physical activity
- When we sleep, we are not doing next to no physical activity
- When we sleep our insulin sensitivity is reduced at night
- So it is assumed that if you consume these carbs before bed they will be stored as fat because we do not have any physical demands to use them for
- Sounds reasonable…...
Correlation not Causation
The reason why their is a lot of "bro-science" that is still believed to be true is that "bro-science" always sounds reasonable! It is so reasonable that it tricks you into thinking it's true. But our saving grace is amazing studies and research that allows us to smash the "bro" claims in their tracks
So for our carbs at night make us fat claim, research has dispelled this myth with a wide array of studies. Remember our correlation not causation example above? This is another example that fits that into the category of bad science and why you should be skeptical of most nutritional claims/headlines and studies that come out.
I am going to show you right now how this correlation not causation came about. Think about what types of foods you eat late at night:
- Most people tend to overeat on super duper carb heavy meals late at night.
- So when people substitute overeating on these carbolicious foods with foods that are considered “healthy”, they tend to lose weight and body fat.
- Since “healthy” foods are normally not calorically dense food choices, the person is not longer eating as many calories thus they will lose weight and body fat.
- Remember that our bodyweight is determined by calories in vs calories out and by substituting in these less calorically dense foods, you will be taking in less calories.
If you want more proof, check out Martin Berkhan’s clientele with the Lean Gains diet where the almost all their food is taken in a night time.
So what do you need to know about carbs before bed?
- They do not make you fat
- Overconsumption of calories makes you fat
- If you are hitting your macros, then when you eat your carbs is almost irrelevant.
4. Intermittent Fasting
What is this Ramadan or something!?
So what is intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting is an eating strategy not a diet. You are simply timing your meals to where you are fasting for a certain period of time and then have an eating window to get your calories in.
We all do some type of intermittent fasting every day: We eat in a certain window of time (usually when we are awake) then fast while we sleep until we have our first meal the next day.
- So if you are eating your last meal at 8pm and not eating breakfast until 8am the next morning, then you are doing a 12 hour fast between meals! Bet you didn't even realize that you were doing this.
But there are certain intermittent fasting strategies that have become popular:
- The Warrior Diet which is a 20 hour fast and a 4 hour eating window. So that would be fasting between 8pm-4pm the next day and then eating from 4pm-8pm
- The Leangains approach is more modest approach of a 16 hour fast followed by an 8 hour eating window. This would look like fasting from 8pm to 12pm the next day and eating from 12pm-8pm.
But won't I lose all my gains not eating for that long!?
I know you are thinking, "But shouldn't they be eating every 2-3 hours in order to keep there metabolism going!?"
The theory goes that is you eat small meals all day long, your body is a furnace and is burning calories thus keeping that metabolism firing! Sound the "bro-science" alert!!!!!
- Whether you eat 2500 calories spread throughout the day or 2500 calories in a small window, your body will burn the same amount calories processing the food.
- This is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
- When we ingest a certain of calories, our bodies will burn about 10% of the size of the meal in calories.
- Ex. If I eat a meal that is 500 calories, then my body will burn 50 calories processing that meal
- Ex. If I eat a meal that is 2000 calories, my body will burn 200 calories digesting that meal
- So if you eat 4 individual 500 calories meals, you will burn 50 calories each so 50 x 4 = 200 calories.
- So your TEF is the same as if you were to eat one huge meal of 2000 calories
Our bodies are super duper smart and we tend to underestimate their abilities to adapt to the circumstance we put on them.
To paint the picture, think of back when our ancestors, the cavemen, were roaming the field looking for their next meal. They only ate what they killed and couldn't go to the local supermarket. So they would go days without food until they killed something to eat. This is the same concept.
Our bodies operate different during times of "fasting' and times of "feasting":
- When "feasting" our bodies have a regular supply of food and do not need to rely on stored energy.
- When "fasting" our bodies do not have readily available energy sources so it has to mobilize energy stored in our bodies (glycogen and body fat)
How I personally use intermittent fasting
- My fasting is usually from 8:30pm till around 11:00-11:30am the next morning and my eating window is from 11:00-11:30am to 9:00pm.
- So I am around a 14-15 hours "fasting" and 9-10 hours "feasting" person.
- I do this because it fits my schedule best and I am not entirely hungry from 5:45am to 11:30am. My day is the most busy during this time period so I do not want to have to worry about food during this time frame.
- I usually workout around 2pm so I make sure to have at least 1000 calories in me before then.
- Also, by eating in a 9-10 hour window instead of a 16 hour window like most prescribe, I am able to eat bigger meals. I love to eat big meals and do not have time to be preparing 6 small meals all day long. Aint no body got time for that!
Pro tip: When cutting
When I am cutting, I really like to start my day with 2 glasses of water and then coffee and hold off on my first meal to within 1.5-2.5 hours (11-11:30am) before my workout at 2pm. This helps because I am consuming less calories than I am normally and allows me to eat bigger meals later on in the day.
Also, what I noticed when skipping breakfast and delaying my first meal was that I was actually more hungry at 11:30am when I ate breakfast than when I did not! Crazy right!? So by skipping breakfast I actually was not as hungry and had created my deficit for the day by skipping breakfast and could eat my normal big meals for the rest of the day! It seemed too good to be true but It's worked like a charm!
Is Intermittent Fasting for You?
Well the answer to this is yes no matter what you say. As I stated before, we all do some form of intermittent fasting through our every day lives.
Things to Ask Yourself When Figuring Out Your "Fasting" and "Feasting" Time Frames:
- What would fit my lifestyle the best?
- Do I like big meals or small meals?
- Am I trying to lose or gain weight?
- If you are trying to gain weight, I would advise to not fast as long because it will become harder get enough calories in throughout the day. Not saying you cannot make it happen but it will make it harder!
What You need to Know About Intermittent Fasting
- We have a set "fasting" period and "feasting" period
- Eating every 2-3 hours does not give you any extra benefits for your metabolism
- Pick the "fasting/feasting" schedule that fits best with your lifestyle.
- Don't over think it!
5. Post Workout Nutrition
The Post Workout Anabolic Window of Gainz
"Sorry bro can't talk, gotta slam this protein shake ASAP so I don't lose all my gainz!"
Have you ever been that person or known someone who was like that? Trust me I used to be that guys 100% and believed that it was necessary…. But I was wrong
- I remember I used to finish my workouts and would sprint directly to my protein shake and knock it back before anything else. I would purposely ignore anyone that would try and talk to me until I got that bad boy back.
At the top of the list of the "bro science" advice that everyone has received at some point in their lives is the that after you workout, you need to have a protein shake within 30-45 minutes because our bodies are greedy for nutrients.
- In theory, strength training or intense athletic movements make our bodies into nutrient processing powerhouses
- And science displayed that waiting longer than 45 minutes after your workout significantly diminished the gainz your received from training.
- But this science had a big flaw: It was only supported in the short-term
- Recent studies in the Journal of the Internation Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN have shown that the "anabolic window of opportunity" is much bigger than we thought.
- They found that the biggest thing that matter is the total amount of protein and carbs you eat over the course of the day is more important for body composition than nutrient timing strategies like post workout nutrition
So it doesnt matter if I wait 2 hours after my workout to eat!?
My answer is…… It depends
- That JIISN study above did find that post workout nutrition was important in some circumstances (I explain below)
Where pre workout nutrition comes into play
- They found that what, when and how much you ate pre workout should determine how long after you workout your post workout meal should be.
- They found that depending on the size of your meal, the space between protein rich meals can be within 3-6 hours.
- For example: If you ate a big meal 2 hours before you worked out, and your workout took about 1.5 hours, then you have 1.5-2.5 hours to get your post workout meal in.
- A smaller meal consumed 2 hours from the workout would require the post workout meal to be consumed much sooner after the workout. Closer to 0.5-1 hour post workout.
- The same can be said for when you ate that meal.
- For example, if you ate a big meal 4 hours from your workout, then a post workout meal would be needed to be consumed almost immediately post workout to hit that 5-6 hour window between feedings.
And please note that these findings were to maximize muscle protein synthesis (the anabolic response) from the workout. Simply put, the building of muscle.
- But also note that the term "maximize" denotes a relatively small increase that most everyday lifters shouldn't have to worry about unless they want to compete professionally.
So what the heck do you need to know about Pre & Post Workout nutrition!?
- Definitely not as important to your gainz as once thought
- You can actually talk to people after you workout without rushing to down a protein shake
- No more than 4-6 hours between pre and post workout meals depending on size of pre workout meal but if so, the affects will be minimal.
Wait Zach! What if I workout first thing in the morning on an empty stomach!? Am I going to lose all my gainz!?
- Nope! If you workout in the morning, the post workout meal will need to be soon after the workout due to the fasted state your body is in.
- Don't stress but just make sure you try and get something to eat within 30-60 minutes post workout
6. Building The Lifestyle
How to take this information and integrate it into your lifestyle
Remember our goal with all this information is to mold our nutrition to where it helps up live the lifestyle we desire.
I know when you are reading all this information it can seem unbelievably overwhelming but there is only 1 major theme/question that you need to worry about.
- What would be the best "fasting" and "feasting" windows for your current lifestyle?
After reading that whole post and it comes down to that 1 simple point! You must be happy its that simple but pissed you had to read all that to find it out!
We all have certain demands on our times each and every day so we have to mold our meal timing around those demands in order to create a nutritional strategy that will be sustainable.
I'll be the guinea pig and use me as an example of what a full day of eating looks like for me when cutting and why it is structured like so.
- Wake up at 5:45am, heat up water to brew my coffee in my french press, drink a tall glass of water that has been heated up for room temp in microwave and then get everything ready to head to the gym or any business meeting I have to go to.
- Then after all my morning sessions at the gym, I am heading home around 11:00am to go have my first meal.
- This first meal comes around 11:30 am which is about 700-800 calories composed of around 60-70g protein, 10-15g fat and 70-80g carbs.
- I workout around 2 and end around 3:30-4pm and then start my afternoon sessions until 7-8pm that night.
- So I then have around 5pm a standard sized protein bar and a couple pieces of fruit like an apple or banana. I am home and start cooking dinner and eat around 8:30pm.
- This meal is around 800-900 cals and a dessert of around 200 calories of some type of macro friendly dessert 🙂 This meal is my biggest of the day.
- I then go to bed at 10:30-11:00pm and repeat this all over again!
If It Fits Your Lifestyle
As you can see, my nutrition complements my lifestyle. I use my nutrition as a tool to live the lifestyle I want to live rather than other way around.
This is applicable to doctors, construction workers, hair stylists, athletes, stay at home moms, college students, and literally everyone in the world! I honestly could not come up with one type of lifestyle that could not use Flexible Dieting to make their lives better!
Am I biased!?
Let me know in the comment section below If you think there is a better alternative to creating the perfect diet that fits YOUR lifestyle.
Also, I am curious to read in the comments what your average "feasting" and "fasting" schedule looks like on an everyday basis and why it is like that? Maybe to fit around your lifestyle?
I hope you all enjoyed this post! Take these action steps and move all the more closer to the lifestyle you desire!
And if you have no read the first two installments of the Flexible Dieting 101 series then here's the What Is Flexible Dieting post and the Ultimate "How To" post for Flexible Dieting Mastery.
Thanks and God Bless,